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The Project Museum

Latest Publications

Stop Panic Attacks By Writing A Diary

spabwdEach person in this world is afraid of something. Most of the people are afraid of dying. But for some people, thinking about death makes them to panic. In addition, if they think about losing someone they love, they may get a panic attack. Such severe reactions can be stopped by few simple steps. Treatment is simple but a person needs to be patient. If a person wants to stop panic attacks, he or she needs to be firm in that decision and the results will show up soon.

Panic attacks are usually related with some kind of fear. If a person has bad memories from childhood, or if there were some traumas in a person’s childhood, that can cause irrational fears in adult age. First step in solving the problem with fears is facing with them. If we deny that we have a problem, we will hardly ever solve it. So after we say to ourselves that we are afraid of something or someone, we will help ourselves. The person who has strong fears should write them down in a diary. Writing about what bothers us can help. And if the diary is written every day, the results may come quickly.

Avoiding Bad Situations – First Move When Dealing With Panic Disorder

People who had some kind of trauma in their life often tend to have irrational fears. They are afraid from things that are usually not causing fear in other people. And when the stressful situation comes, these people often panic. This condition is called a panic attack and it is not easy to handle it, but the solution exists. But how do you deal with panic attacks when they occur?

Prevention is always the best. So if a person can somehow avoid the situation that will result in panic attack, it would be good to run away from such situations at least at the beginning. When the person gets stronger emotionally, there will not be necessary to run away. But in the start, that is the good step. Avoiding places and even people that cause panic attacks is really smart. Some places may cause people to remember bad memories, so if there is any place that continuously reminds the person on these bad memories, the place should be avoided. Also, some people may get on our nerves. Avoiding argues and yelling is the best choice because otherwise such quarrels may result in panic attack. So avoiding bad situation is the first move when dealing with panic disorder. More ideas and treatments are here.

Ask Your Friends About The Best Wrinkle Creams!

ayfbaacIn every person, there are always at least 5 of his or her friends that used, are using or planning to use anti aging creams. They may be the easiest promoter you can find for a wrinkle product. Simply ask them first if they tried using anti aging products and if they were satisfied. Then ask them: “What is the best wrinkle cream?” if so. Let’s say they are also planning on using wrinkle creams like you but yes, just like you, they haven’t decided on which one to get. That is the best way for you to find the best product for you. You can go canvassing with your friend or friends.

Most of the time, doctors or pharmacists or anyone with medicinal knowledge (or sources like this), can help you answer your question “What is the best wrinkle cream?” These people with medicinal knowledge know so well what the effects are. They can also recommend the right dosage for your skin type. You just have to ask them, “What is the best wrinkle cream?” especially for your skin type. It is important to get your skin checked first if you have any allergies. Our skin is really sensitive and it’s the first thing people notice.

Herbal Anti Aging Creams Lead The Market!

In the market, the best anti aging product has been the aging creams that contain herbal products. Why do you think so? Herbal ingredients in anti aging creams have been used even in the early centuries. Women during the early centuries believe that the right herbs will make you look younger and will remove those lines in your face that makes you look old.

The best anti aging product for people with sensitive skin is any product that contains herbs or natural ingredients. The best-selling anti aging products in the market are mostly herbal anti aging products. Most of the herbal anti aging products have received positive feedbacks from users and they are really pleased. That is why resellers of herbal anti aging creams are widely spread worldwide.

According to most statistics in the internet, herbal anti aging products are still the best anti aging product especially for those who are scared to have a bad side effect in their faces then herb-based creams are for you. Herbal products promise the best effects for your skin. Even in the ancient times, herbal creams were used to maintain the youth in one’s skin. Until now, people, especially women, still believe that herbal anti aging creams can maintain their youth just like how it did centuries ago.

Writing For The Web Can Be Lucrative

In the past two years, freelance assignments have taken me to some interesting places: I’ve hiked the steaming caldera of a Hawaiian volcano, snorkeled the world’s deepest spring, rappelled into an Alabama cave, and held a piece of ALH 84001, the famous rock from Mars. I’ve written about these adventures at the average rate of a dollar per word.

So what, you ask? Isn’t this the sort of fun freelance writers have always bragged about?

Well, yes and no.

What’s unusual in my case (but quickly getting to be the norm) is that none of the stories I wrote about these adventures ever appeared on a printed page. They were published on the World Wide Web, in The Discovery Channel Online (DCOL) and ABCNews.com. And as such professionally produced, well-funded electronic magazines like these proliferate, print writers can expect to find a lucrative and growing market on the electronic frontier.

It’s a mistake to assume, however, that editors of Web-based media want the same material you’d produce for that quaint wood-pulp-based medium you’re reading at the moment. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” The Web is still in its infancy; so far no one has figured out exactly what message its audience wants. But what has become increasingly clear is that the online audience doesn’t want to read traditional magazine articles thrown across a computer screen.

What follows, then, are a few evolving guidelines for the online freelancer. Keep in mind that the key word is evolving; Since my first online article was posted in July 1995, hundreds of magazines have appeared online. Hundreds have vanished. The few long-term survivors have changed their basic look and content, on average, every three to four months. This means that any print-based information for specific markets (including information in this article) may be out of date by the time you read it. So the trick is learning how to analyze the ever-morphing markets on your own, and how to sell to a particular site once you’ve pinned it down for the moment.

Study the Markets

wfwclEven though the medium is new, my first point of advice isn’t. As with freelancing in print, you can’t expect to sell professional writing to a magazine you’ve never read. In order to break into a given Web site, study every available screen of content. (This means that to sell to the online magazines, you must have regular access to a personal computer loaded with Netscape, Microsoft Explorer or some other Internet browser, as well as Internet access. If you can’t afford this, many universities and libraries provide public access.) Use the “Magazine” listings on such search engines as Yahoo, Excite or AOL Find to browse the marketplace.

Look at current issues, and call up past screens from archives (which virtually all sites maintain). Notice such things as number and type of advertisers. With most online magazines, the ads are narrow bars (called banners) at the top of the page. Clicking on these will usually lead you through several pages of information. Studying the organization of these advertising pages will tell you a great deal about the demographics of the magazine’s audience.

If there are no advertisers, chances are there is no available money to pay freelancers, unless the Web site is sponsored by a large private organization, such as a national environmental organization.

Pay attention to regular departments, or slots, especially those featuring the bylines of a number of different authors a sure sign that the slot is open to freelancers. Observe the use of photos, audio and video, as well as the number of screens of print devoted to particular articles.

You may be able to find market information for sites that interest you in the “Online Markets” section of the 1998 Writer’s Market, or in the Markets section of Writer’s Digest (see page 38 and the October 1997 issue). With print magazines, prospective writers often send SASE for writer’s guidelines, which they usually receive a few weeks later. But many online magazines post writer’s guidelines that you can access instantaneously, although you may have to navigate around the site for a while to find them.

Usually, if you click on a magazine’s logo or the phrase “About Us,” you’ll get a mission statement describing the editorial slant and the intended audience, a masthead listing staff members, and guidelines for freelance submissions. Some sites will include brief bios of specific editors in the masthead, letting them describe in their own words the sections they edit and their particular tastes–invaluable information for the free lancer.

Even more useful are the editors’ e-mail addresses. Virtually all correspondence with online magazines, from your initial query letter through final revisions and corrections of your published article, will be handled via e-mail. If you don’t have the editor’s e-mail address (and, obviously, if you don’t have an e-mail address yourself, you have no hope for making a sale.

If the site you want to sell to doesn’t list e-mail addresses for editors, usually a “Feedback” button will allow you to e-mail the editorial offices. If editors names are listed, but no e-mail address is given, you may be able to track down the proper address through Bigfoot, WhoWhere or one of the other Internet e-mail directories. (At some Web sites, especially those tied to television networks, the editors may be called “producers,” but they assign articles and edit text in exactly the same way as other Web sites’ editors.)

When you’ve picked out a likely magazine, one that interests you, uses (and clearly pays for!) freelance material, and you’ve found an e-mail address for an appropriate editor at that magazine, you’re ready for the next step: selling the piece. I use a process that I’ve shorten to the acronym SELL: Slots; Elitist hipster attitude; Long equals bad; and Links, links, links.


As with print magazines, most online markets separate main features and cover stories from shorter, regular departmental pieces. And as with print, the best way to break in is to pitch an appropriate, well-honed slot idea to the appropriate editor. The best-known, highest-paying sites–places like DCOL, Salon, HotWired, Slate and Women’s Wire–use well-known authors and journalists for big features, but are all surprisingly receptive to freelance contributors in their smaller slots. (The obvious exceptions are columns contracted to individual writers, such as the science columns written by Les Dye at ABCnews.com or Hannah Holmes at DCOL.)

Slots are often difficult for editors to fill because each week or month they have to find an idea that fits the format without duplicating a piece already posted. For example, I’ve sold several times to an essay slot at DCOL called Gone, which is published weekly in the Exploration department, edited by Greg Henderson. Every essay that runs in the slot is entitled “Gone . . .” followed by a type of adventurous destination: “Gone . . . to the Volcano,” “Gone . . . to the Cave Carnival,” “Gone . . . Searching. for Aliens” and so on. The essays are all first-person, about 750 words long, and describe what Henderson calls “a single scene from the midst of an adventure.” Any writer who reads several of these in a row is likely to come up with a personal experience–or perhaps even a piece already written for print–that could be shaped to the demands of the Gone slot. And virtually every department of every online magazine has several such slots.

Elitist Hipster Attitude

From its beginning in the fall of 1996, my Writing for New Media course (which focuses mainly on the Internet) has required students to give periodic oral reports on particular sites. One student discovered, in the writer’s guidelines for Charged, a youth-targeted spin-off of Outside Online, a phrase that the class embraced as mantra, with great success: “The pieces we’re looking for,” a Charged editor wrote, “show elitist hipster attitude.”

None of us quite knew what the phrase meant. But we grokked that it described the esthetic of many of the sites we’d studied. We even shortened the phrase to EHA, and in many of our workshops one writer would say to another, “This piece could work if just had more EHA.”

Like the Web surfers who spend time reading online, online writing is informal, smart, often irreverent, occasionally profane, unafraid to use the word grok (which means “to understand”) or to drop references to, say, the TV show Friends, Robert Heinlein and Immanuel Kant within the space of a paragraph. In short, online writing is playfully cool. Whenever I sit down to write a Web piece, I imagine I’m sending a casual e-mail to a well-read friend, rather than addressing a Mass Audience as an Electronic Journalist. I do the same careful reporting I’d do for print, of course; I gather accurate facts and arresting quotes and vivid scenic detail. I just keep in mind that the level of diction evolving for this medium is far more relaxed, if also a bit more self-conscious, than the diction of Consumer Reports or The Atlantic Monthly.

Such writing doesn’t always come naturally. But if you can master it, beginning with the e-mail correspondence by which you introduce yourself to editors, you’ll have come a long way toward adopting the prevalent culture of the Web. Even the fairly straightforward news items at ABCnews.com indulge in puns and pop culture analogies in ways that would make Peter Jennings bristle.

Perhaps the best mainstream example of EHA can be found in the articles and essays of Salon and HotWired. These Web magazines assume their readers are informed on current technology, current events and the media, and that they really enjoy their fun. And have retained at least a few bytes of whatever classical education they were once exposed to. And aren’t particularly offended by sentence frays, unexplained computer terms, or lines ending in prepositions.

If you catch my drift.

Long Equals Bad

The little glowing window of even a high-resolution monitor requires type to be much larger than what readers tolerate on a magazine page, and the window is made even smaller than the screen by the order imposed by a Web browser. So from type size alone, even a fairly short and snappy magazine piece can appear dreary and endless on a computer screen. The typical 3,000-word feature from Glamour or Sports Illustrated becomes Joyce’s Ulysses online, unless broken into discrete nuggets on separate screens.

Writing and pictures (and sometimes audio and video) must work together with entirely different constraints than those imposed on a magazine page, and some Web sites also toss audio and even video into the mix. Whenever you put a story online, your readers (viewers? users? conducts?) are never more than a mouse-click away from arcade shoot-outs and nude celebrities. Every line must grab attention.

The first article I sold to an online market was a 2,500-word feature with all sorts of internal hypertext links and sidebars and video clips, which ran in July 1995, during the inaugural week of DCOL. Many thousands of readers clicked onto the story’s spectacular opening photo–which took a frustrating amount of time for older PCs to download and many read the opening screen of text. But fewer than 10% bothered to navigate through the many screens of the entire piece. Now, at DCOL as at most other sites, the longest a single piece ever gets is about a thousand words. Big features, such as a dinosaur dig in Mongolia or daring helicopter rescues with the New York City area Coast Guard, appear in the form of several separate articles, each posted on a different day.

Online readers may read several related pieces of 700 to 1,000 words, but they just don’t have the patience for very long features; very few online magazines will now consider anything longer. And there are many shorter pieces, in the range of 300-500 words. It’s not so much that Internet readers have short attention spans (although that may be true of many), but the physical act of reading on a screen and scrolling with a mouse is simply more effort to most people than the comparable act of thumbing through a magazine on the couch or in bed. Therefore, the material must move faster, and deliver knowledge and entertainment more quickly.

Length is a consideration at all levels of your writing. Within a piece, paragraphs are typically much shorter than those in print magazines. If a paragraph can’t fit into a single browser window, it probably needs to be broken into two or three. Sentences, like paragraphs, need to be short online. And words–short ones are better than long ones.

Links, Links, Links

The final key to successful online writing is to take full advantage of the medium by providing readers (and your editor) with both internal and external hot links. A link is an underlined word or phrase that appears on the computer screen in a different color than the surrounding text. Clicking on an internal link takes you to a sidebar or elsewhere within an article. Clicking on an external link takes you out of the article and into some other domain–usually another Web site with useful information on the underlined topic.

For example, if a travel piece contained the line, “We drove north from Rome past the ancient town of Viterbo,” clicking on the word “Viterbo” might bring a reader to an internal link comparing three reasonably priced hotels in Viterbo. Or it might just as well take the reader to an external Web site maintained by an Italian company that runs tours Viterbo’s famous hot springs. Because an external site might lure a reader away from an article (and magazine’s advertisers), most sites use them sparingly, often saving them for the end of the article or a separate “Links” button. But nearly all sites use internal links. They provide a way of making the main article–which is always too long–a little shorter.

In your initial article query, it is thus wise to suggest one to three internal links for the average factual article (links are not as common in personal essays, which are usually fairly linear). You should also suggest four or five external links, not only as possible uses for the proposed piece, but as a means for the editor to seek more information on your proposed topic, if the editor wants it. And if the site employs still images, video or audio, you might also suggest links to external sites that might serve as willing sources for such material (although, obviously, editors will have to get permission before running copyrighted images or sound with your article).

Sell It

If you can become familiar with the aspects of netjournalism, you’ll quickly find that the markets are more responsive than most print magazines. The medium is new enough that editors haven’t yet been overwhelmed with thousands of bad queries and jam-smeared religious short stories. You’ll often receive a quick response to your query (anywhere from minutes to a few days, as opposed to the weeks you’ll wait for answers from the slicks). And when you do make a sale, you’ll almost certainly be asked to contribute additional stories to the site.

I don’t think the Web will replace bleached wood pulp within my lifetime. I still have ideas for long, in-depth pieces that I dream of selling to Harper’s or The New Yorker. But writers write, and professional writers write for money.

I’ve learned that online articles are more than a great way to earn a few dollars: They’ve helped me grow as a writer, by forcing me to adopt an economy of style that the printed page didn’t always demand. They’ve helped me grow as reader, by immersing me in a creative medium I might otherwise have ignored. I’ve received instantaneous feedback from readers’ e-mail, and my articles stay “in print” for as long as the Web site maintains it archives–usually a year or two.

In other words, I feel like a real writer, as opposed to a virtual one. Not to mention the trip to Hawaii.

Why First Person Non-Fiction Is Dubious

Okay, let me deal with the hypocrisy thing first, before you even think of it. What you’re reading here is a column, necessarily opinionated in places and inevitably calling for use of the first person. So don’t wince, don’t write, nasty letters, don’t send me “practice what you preach” e-mails when you see “I…I…I” herein.

Because I am about to raise the alarm about what seems to be a creeping epidemic of first-personism in contemporary American nonfiction writing. I’m not talking about columns, personal essays or other forms where the first-person perspective is welcome, even expected. No, I’m raising the proverbial red flag about the intrusion of I into otherwise straightforward journalism.

nwThe examples I’ll cite are culled from some of the toniest towers of magazine publishing, and so the writers in question can probably get away with unnecessarily weaseling themselves into their otherwise well-written articles. But I’d add the daredevil’s disclaimer: Kids, don’t try this at home.

The problem with putting yourself into articles where you don’t belong, as we’ll see, is that you spend energy and creativity writing about you instead of about your subject.

Your readers come to the page eager to learn about child-rearing tips, the life of an auto-racing legend, the latest in computer gizmos, or whether anti-wrinkle creams really work. Instead, you force them to read about you. The insinuation of I into such articles wastes words and tries readers’ patience–it’s little different from having too liberal a hand with adjectives, or sprinkling your prose with empty adverbs.

If the article is about you or your opinions or your amazing recovery from a mysterious South American ailment, by all means employ the first person. If the article isn’t about you, stop blocking the “camera” and concentrate on your actual subject.

I Can’t Help Myself!

The creeping first-personing of American nonfiction first struck me on a summer Saturday when I was lolling in the green-and-white-striped swing on our patio, sipping iced tea and reading the latest issue of The New Yorker.

I (See how annoying that is? Who cares what I wag doing, where I was or what I was sipping? The important point is that the magazine in question was The New Yorker.)

I began reading an article about William Cohen, the secretary of defense, by James Carroll. Now, Carroll actually had some excuse to insert himself into this article, since his father worked in the Pentagon and Carroll wanted to draw on his own experiences as a military brat to contrast with Cohen. Carroll set this up in the second paragraph, recollecting the last time he’d been in the secretary of defense’s office–to pick up his father when he worked late. Fine so far.

But here’s the thing about allowing yourself the luxury of the first person: It takes over. You start putting yourself in the center of the story. You lean on the I like a crutch. You get, well, lazy.

So by page 3, Carroll had slipped to this:

When we were seated, alone, at a small table

at one end of Cohen’s office, the first question

I put to him was whether a man temperamentally

inclined to doubt was suited to the job.

Not a horrible sentence–just wordy in a first-person kind of way, the way it’s all too easy for beginning writers in particular to stumble once they start down the I road. Since the previous,sentence had cited a New Republic cover about Cohen headlined “Doctrine of Doubt,” that idea of “doubt” was already in readers’ minds. Why delay the follow-up with unrevealing details about getting seated or the needless “the first question I put to him”? Just pose it: “Is a man temperamentally inclined to doubt suited to the job?” Then focus on the subject in the act of answering, rather than on the questioner.

Am I Intruding?

Except for a few more minor first-person detours, Carroll wrote a fine article. What unsettled me was its appearance, lapses intact, in The New Yorker. What next, I wondered–Esquire?

Yes, Esquire. About the same time (think me, Saturday, patio swing, iced tea), Esquire carried an article about “car-spy photographer” Jim Dunne, who sneaks shots of preproduction automobiles. Interesting subject, written with much colorful detail. So why’d he dip into the first person?

When I stopped to write on my

notepad …. The heat warmed the

water in the bottle that I carried in

my hand…. From a book I had seen

at the airport in Phoenix, I knew

there were scorpions and rattlesnakes

all through this kind of territory,

and it made me nervous that I

couldn’t see any….

Those are from a paragraph that used I nine times. Who is this article supposed to be about, anyway?

The article was otherwise artfully written, with lively quotes and vivid description (“A bird with a call that sounded like a zipper…”). But it would have been interesting to read a version without the writer sharing the spotlight. The intrusion of the writer can be just that–intrusive. It tempts writers to put readers one step removed from the action, seeing it through your eyes instead of feeling that they are there. Consider this, from the same article: “We saw tails of dust rising from the desert at the foot of some hills several miles away…” The focus is on the viewers, not the view; the verb is the passive “saw.” Why not simply: “Tails of dust rose from the desert…”?

Take the First-Person Test

In the same pile of recent magazines was an issue of Wired that confirmed my worst fears about the first-personing of nonfiction. The cover promised an article about the sequel to Myst, the wildly popular computer game. I wanted to read about the sequel to Myst. Instead, I read about how the author of the article felt about the sequel to Myst.

This one had first-person-run-wild written all over it, right from the first sentence: “On my last evening in Spokane….,” it began, then delivered five Is before reaching the first period. By the second page I came to a paragraph including, “I walked across the puddled parking lot and peered in the windows…. I saw the dim shadow of the reception desk…. I remembered….”

If this article were written by one of the creators of Myst, such a first-person insider tone would make sense. But, no, the author’s claim to fame is–well, let him tell you: “I was proud that I had written the first big story about Myst.”

Here the writer has begun to forget who the story is about. And the readers can hardly be blamed if they, too, begin to wonder.

The point isn’t to critique this particular Wired story; it’s to warn how easily you can get off track once I gets in the driver’s seat.

Before you put yourself into your story, ask yourself:

* Is your first-person experience–how you felt or what you did, rather than what you saw and heard–truly essential to telling this story? Did you feel or do something that can’t be communicated to readers without you getting in front of the “camera”?

* Do you bring some unusual expertise or experience to the story? Carroll brought a special perspective to writing about the Pentagon, as did, for example, the author of a recent New York Times Sunday. Magazine piece about Japanese elementary schools–whose own two children had been through them.

* Can the one or two spots where you might profitably insert yourself into the article be rewritten into the third person? Even if rewriting requires somewhat awkwardly describing yourself as “a visitor,” for example (“He rises politely when a visitor enters…”), this may be the better choice than starting down the slippery first-person slope.

* Finally, what’s this article about? Is it about your reaction to what you saw and experienced? Or is it about what you saw and experienced? Are you an actor in this story, or the director?

Before you answer, remember that most actors say what they really want to do is direct. They know what writers should keep in mind: The “first person” isn’t always the one with the most creative clout.

Killer Creativity Exercises

I had just finished reading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling and had decided once and for all that I wanted to be a writer. I was in the sixth grade. The fastest route to my goal, it seemed to me at the time, was The Famous Writers School. I had seen an ad for it in the back of one of my parents’ magazines. You could send away for a test, then mail it in and a real writer would look at it to see if you had any talent. If you did, you would be “permitted” to enroll in a correspondence course and become a Famous Writer yourself.

I sent away for it. When the test came, I labored mightily, in secret, in my room, my future at stake. I remember working especially hard on the similes section. Fill in the blank: As white as –. As crazy as –. I knew even then that there were things called cliches and that a real writer didn’t use them. A real writer didn’t write as white as snow or as crazy as a loon. A real writer came up with some wonderful, startlingly original expression. But what should I write? As white as my baby brother’s spit-up? As crazy as Uncle Herman? This similes test, I thought, was the true test, the one that separated the talented from the talentless.

kceI don’t remember what I ended up writing. But I do remember that about a month after I mailed in the test, a little man in a brown suit came to our front door soon after I got home from East Broadway Elementary School. I was probably in the kitchen eating a Twinkie. He told my mother he represented the Famous Writers School and was here to sign me up for the course. She treated him like any other door-to-door salesman, which is to say, he never got past the screen door. Eavesdropping from the kitchen, I almost didn’t mind. What did the course matter, anyway? I passed the test! My similes had demonstrated my talent.

Thirty years later, I still do battle with cliches, still hunt for the perfect, startling turn of phrase and still believe that originality in writing is what separates the competent from the memorable. But now I know that there is much more to originality than an occasional tweak of the language. Originality of style, I have learned, cannot be separated from originality of substance. In this third and last in the series on how to diagnose and cure your writing ills, I want to focus on originality and what it means in the act of writing.

As you are evaluating an article you’ve written or sitting down to write a new one, ask yourself these questions:

Is the concept for this piece original?

Does my research show originality?

Is my presentation original?

Is the Concept Original?

Originality begins with the thinking-envisioning-dreaming process that accompanies the formulation of a story idea. Two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, who had one of the most original scientific minds of the 20th century, once wrote, “You can’t have good ideas unless you have lots of ideas.” Pauling was acknowledging that even the most creative and unique mind will come up with a number of unworthy or unworkable ideas. The trick is being able to distinguish the one terrific idea from the many commonplace Ones.

Seldom will a clap of thunder and a blinding light accompany a great idea. More likely, you will come to recognize the value of a story idea after giving yourself time to ponder it. Novice writers tend to be stingy with this dreaming-envisioning time, rushing forward to write as soon as possible. But time spent thinking at this early stage is one of the keys to originality.

Looking through your story idea file or reviewing that last piece you wrote, you can ask yourself. Is this a completely new, never-been-told story? Do I have a new and unique slant on an existing story? Are there new questions that might be asked of an old subject? Are there new voices that need to be heard? Originality of concept can take a number of forms.

Truly new, never-been-told stories come to writers who constantly scan the environment, read voraciously, listen intently and have managed to preserve a core of wonder about the world. They read about a new scientific study that links chocolate to longevity. (Okay, I made that one up.) They watch as their community deals creatively with teenage crime. Writers actively seek these original ideas. Some will pan out. Many will not.

More commonly, writers look for new ways to tell enduring, recurring or common stories. They ask the never-been-asked questions of the much-profiled figure. They seek out the never-been-heard voices in an old debate. They travel the back roads, literally and figuratively, to the known destination.

A writer can take an ordinary, much-written-about idea–the Internet as a virtual community, for example–and give it new life by shifting focus. This is what a New York Times writer did recently in a moving story about autistic adults who are finding a sense of community online and discovering that they can communicate more easily on screen than face to face.

It is good to remember that a story can be a cliche before a single word is written. A story can be a cliche in its conception. That’s why it is vital to take the time to think through story ideas before deciding whether to act on them.

Does Your Research Show Originality?

Research is another place a writer can show originality–or suffer under the weight of cliches. Originality in research means going beyond the ordinary and going beneath the surface. It means discovering new sources, listening for new voices and using new technologies. Jot-and-trot daily journalists may make a few quick phone calls to a few Rolodex warriors and call that research, but this is not how meaningful, memorable stories are created.

Take a look at that story you just finished writing or consider your research plan for an upcoming story. Now ask yourself how long you spent thinking about where and how to do your research. A little brainstorming time early in the process can yield significant results. Original, creatively conceived research often unearths original material.

First, consider rethinking your,approach to the people you will be writing about. Don’t just pick up the phone. Don’t just schedule a traditional inter-view. In fact, don’t think of yourself as an interviewer armed with questions. Instead, think creatively: You are an anthropological fieldworker setting out on a mission to understand a new person, a new group, a community. (I explored this concept of writer as anthropologist in my article “The Search for Meaning” in the April WD.) Those of us schooled in traditional journalism think we must talk in order to be working, but anthropologists understand that Sitting and watching are vital information gathering activities, too. There may be questions to ask, but first there are voices to listen to and interactions to observe.

It seems only common sense that people are more themselves when they are living their lives than when they are sitting across the table from a writer answering questions. Allowing people to be who they are by staying in the background can be a key to getting original material.

Even if you are going to schedule a traditional interview, you can foster originality in your research by thinking creatively about sources. The biggest mistake writers make in looking for expert sources is misdefining them. With our national penchant for inflated job titles and our abiding faith in formal education, it is no wonder we tend to define experts by the words and initials surrounding their names rather than by their actual knowledge.

But experts needn’t be credentialed, titled or highly placed. In fact, the closer your sources are to the core of your story, the clearer their vision will be. Thoughtful researchers are rarely content to skim the top layer of officialdom for expert sources. They know that going to the “usual suspects” will net them the usual information. They spend the extra time to find the “hidden” experts.

Finally, if you aren’t already taking advantage of the Internet as a research tool, do it now. The Information Highway may itself be a cliche, but using it to ferret out interesting–especially alternative–sources can bring liveliness and originality to your research. The Internet can be an invaluable “fast fact” tool when you use search engines to find current information on an almost infinite number of topics. This makes some kinds of basic research more efficient and quicker, which is a boon to the busy writer, but it is not what is truly exciting about the new technology.

What is most thrilling is the Internet’s power to link you to people you never would have found otherwise. The people you find–or who find you, if you post a query–are not the usual suspects. They are not the Rolodex warriors, not the over-interviewed folks with pat answers. They are more often fresh voices with fresh perspectives who can infuse your story with original thinking.

Is Your Presentation Original?

“When we put words together … we begin to show our original selves,” writes author Donald Hall. But simply using lovely turns of phrase to dress tip tired stories based on prosaic research doesn’t work. Originality of’ style emerges from originality of substance. First, the material itself must be worthy.

Assuming that’s true, the next challenge is to write with flair, with personality, with freshness and liveliness, with a unique vision that. is yours. I don’t mean that your personality overwhelms the piece. True, there is some writing where the writer is front and center–memoir, the personal essay, the column, for example. But in most magazine and feature writing, the subject, not the author, is at the center. However, what readers learn about the subject is filtered through the intelligence and seen through the eyes of the writer.

If the writer’s vision is the key to original presentation, how about giving yourself an eye exam? Take a look at that story you’ve just written and comb it for outright cliches. A cliche, by definition, lacks originality. It is a trite or overused expression or idea, the image or phrase that springs immediately to mind. We’ve heard it before; we’ve read it before. Cliches take no more time to think of than they do to pound out on the keyboard.

Creating original expressions, on the other hand, is a challenge to your imagination and linguistic powers.

Last month’s article focused on liveliness and detail as two components of stylish writing. Attention to both can contribute to originality in presentation. Here are some other ideas:

* Play with words. Word play is one of the joys of writing. You need not be devastatingly clever to indulge in it. You need only pay close attention to the meaning of words and the possibilities of play. Soap makers are in a lather over increased industry restrictions. Smokers are fuming about new restaurant policies. Even such little linguistic tweaks can add personality to a story. Earlier in this piece, I looked for an original way to characterize journalists who zip in and out of stories. “Jot and trot” is what I came up with. That’s playing with words.

* Play with figures of speech. Similes, metaphors, personification and allusion aren’t the private province of poets and fiction writers. They are important elements for all writers in search of originality and liveliness. The apt analogy, the startling comparison, the unique verbal twist can capture readers’ attentions and make your prose memorable. It’s worth your time–and it takes plenty of it –to create original figures of speech.

* Experiment with rhythm. Words march to a beat. Long sentences move gently, liltingly, picking up momentum as they go. Short sentences create a staccato beat. Purposeful repetition of words and phrases can add rhythm and meter. Original expression means paying attention not merely to the meaning of words but to their tempo, their cadence, their pulse. Write for the ear. Read aloud as you write, toying with word order, repetition, sentence construction, sentence length and parallelism to create rhythm.

* Listen, to sound. “A sentence is not interesting merely in conveying a meaning of words,” wrote Robert Frost. “It must convey a meaning by sound.” Poets know this well. Nonfiction writers ought to learn it. Our language is rich with words that sound like what they mean, like gag, clang, buzz and boom. But many other words, while not actually onomatopoeic, convey meaning by their sound.

Consider the word ungainly–a perfectly serviceable adjective with a distinct meaning. But listen to the word lumbering. Its three syllables roll around the inside the mouth, lips, tongue, throat. The word moves slowly with heavy feet. It lumbers. And oafish, doltish and cloddish–all variations on the theme of ungainliness–sound oafish, doltish and cloddish. So, while ungainly does an adequate job in conveying meaning, the other words can bring a texture to the sentence that elevates it and contributes to originality and liveliness.

It is also the sounds of words placed together that matter. We all know to avoid tongue twisters when we write. But we can also actively seek to construct melodious sentences that sing with meaning.

The most important thing to remember about originality in writing is that it is the sum of several thoughtful–perhaps even inspired–decisions, from conceiving a unique story to researching it in novel ways to writing it with flair. Writers can grow into originality, and their distinct, individual and memorable voices can emerge, after they master the fundamentals. Being your own diagnostician, your own toughest editor–and your staunchest supporter–will take you far.

Can You Sell Your Novel?

About advertising a book Maxwell Perkins once remarked, “If a book is absolutely dead, all the advertising in the world isn’t going to help. But if it’s got a glimmer of life, if it’s selling a little bit maybe in only one or two spots, it’s moving enough to be given a push.”

Today, books have become more difficult than ever to market. You may feel the battle won when your manuscript is accepted, but from a publisher’s standpoint, such factors as the inflation of book advances, the tightening of corporate budgets and an intensely competitive marketplace have made marketing as vital a function of the publishing process as the editorial acquisition itself. Marketing plans are now often outlined even before a book is acquired, as the traditional approach to publicity of mailing out bound galleys and hoping for good word-of-mouth gives way to lavish Hollywood-esque PR campaigns. But there are no formulas for success and marketing alone can rarely jump-start a book without that “glimmer of life.”

Last March, Douglas Kennedy’ first crime thriller, The Big Picture, roared into bookstores on an enormous wave of advance hype. In the preceding months, Hyperion had invested $750,000 in publicity and advertising; advance readers editions, disposable cameras, and press kits meant to look Like photographic portfolios were sent to hundreds of reviewers; the book was advertised on billboards and movie screens. Though Kennedy did appear briefly on The New York Times bestseller list, says one source at Hyperion, the novel was only one of a number of last year’s much bruited books, from various houses, that failed to meet high sales expectations.

bmb“In general, there are some campaigns that work and some that don’t,” says Maryann Palumbo, who as Dutton/Signet senior vp/marketing, oversaw the $2 million promotional efforts in behalf of Stephen King’s serial paperback novel The Green Mile Advertising Age called the six-month publicity blitz one of the 100 most outstanding marketing campaigns of 1996, and more than 23 million Mile paperbacks have sold.

“You must create excitement and do different things to get people into bookstores,” says Palumbo. And no house can simply buy a blockbuster. “The book must deliver, too. The public is very savvy and if the book isn’t good they’re just not going to tell those other ten people to buy it.”

Rob Weisbach, publisher of Rob Weisbach Books, a William Morrow imprint, says: “I think people are actually distrustful of advertising and would rather have someone other than the publisher saying this is the next big thing.”

Publishing insiders often contrast the disappointing sales of The Big Picture with those of The Tenth Justice, a first legal thriller by Brad Meltzer, and a major hit for Rob Weisbach Books last spring. Meltzer’s novel was also the subject of a well-orchestrated marketing campaign, including postcards mailed to members of the American Bar Association and ads on Late Night With David Letterman and the X-Files. But Weisbach contends it was not the advertising but the favorable reviews in Vanity Fair, Publishers Weekly, Glamour, Booklist and People that sold the book to the public.

Weisbach cautions that a sophisticated marketing campaign must begin with a compelling read. “Every book we publish we have to believe we’d go out and buy ourselves. People run in to trouble when they try to anticipate the desires of someone else.”

The competition for a larger piece of a publisher’s marketing budget has led some authors to demand a publicity guarantee in their book contract; a kind of insurance policy that their book won’t fall through the cracks when it’s published months after it’s acquired. When Tibor Fischer’s latest book, The Collector, went to auction last winter, Metropolitan Books underbid at least one other house, but managed to snare the author with a contract that outlined a specific marketing plan.

“We’ve started to do that more often because help us when we’re b with the agent,” says Megan Butler , director of marketing and publicity at Metropolitan. “It shows the author and the agent that we’re not just throwing money at it, but that we really want to do what’s best for the book.”

Crown president and publisher Chip Gibson notes that a such strategy doesn’t guarantee that a book. Most of the time our reaction in the marketing has to make spend. If anything, my marketing budget at a Crown as a percentage of sales is much higher than average. Without the stricture of a contractually guaranteed expenditure, I’m already over the moon. I don’t have to incentivize that.”

What should matter to an unsigned author, says Gibson, is not simply the size of the advance r publicity commitment, but that a publisher demonstrates a creative approach to the book, a grasp of its nuances and possibilities, which then might translate into truly felicitous and effectual marketing campaign. “A good writer might ask not about the money, but what have they done with this kind of fiction, for instance. Let’s get a taste of your creativity. No one ever asks that. And why not?”

If You Have To Ask: “Should I Rewrite This?”, Then, “Yes.”

Everyone’s heard sportswriter Red Smith’s description of’ the writing process: “All you do,” he explained, “is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Smith was referring to the challenges every writer endures–obtaining original material with creative reporting, pinpointing an illustrative anecdote, polishing every sentence and baiting our readers with a compelling lead.

What Smith didn’t say is this: Rewriting stops the bleeding.

For most of my features, I spend 70%, of my time reporting, 10% writing and 20% rewriting. Many writers save little time for the last stage, the most pivotal part of the process. But first-rate reporting and thoughtful storytelling can fail if it’s full of inappropriate words, clunky phrases and loose sentences.

rw“I think revision is where a lot of wonderful surprises occur,” says Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute. “It’s often not in drafting, but in revision, where exactly the right word comes to you. That word most likely will bring pleasure or surprise to the reader as well.”

As editor of Delaware Today, I often receive freelance stories that read like first drafts. They’re well-reported, but they often lack luster–a sign that the story hasn’t. evolved from the assignment to the deadline.

And as a writer, I have two goals during revision: tightening sentences and strengthening words. By doing that, I can accomplish the overall goal of article writing–to empower every word, sentence and paragraph so that it propels my reader to the next. I do that with this six-step revising process.

The First Draft

Any feature story stands on the merits of its reporting. Even the most eloquent writer can’t substitute brilliant language for a lack of vivid detail or poignant facts. Use the first draft to make decisions about your reporting and structure.

What facts, quotes, anecdotes and description will you use? With what will you lead the story? How will you structure it? What theme will direct the story? How many sections will you use? Where are your natural transitions? How will you end the article?

Instead of trying to accomplish everything in one stage, save your thoughts and energy about the mechanics of your writing until the revision. For example, if you’re worried about how to transition into an upcoming section, you’re naturally going to ignore verb choice. And unless you make time in the rewrite, chances are that the poor word choice will remain ignored.

Clark suggests that writers be more efficient on the front end–reporting and drafting–to give themselves time for revising later.

For a behind-the-scenes story about a law firm, I spent about six weeks reporting–talking to dozens of people inside and outside the firm, watching lawyers in action, and transcribing notes.

Once I was satisfied with my reporting (are we ever?), I spent an afternoon highlighting my notes–what details I wanted to use, what quotes I could sacrifice. I also decided how to structure the feature.

One Sunday (no phone calls, disruptions, etc.), I cranked out 4,000 words in about 12 hours. The story was weak–not because of the information I used, but because of the dull language. But I accomplished my goal in the first draft: I created the story’s foundation. For the next four or five days, I revised. I toughened my verbs. I omitted the waste.

I stopped the bleeding.

The Relevancy Test

Once I complete the first draft, I check every piece of information for relevancy–not Just paragraphs or sections, but also prepositional phrases and words. Do I need this information? Does it relate to the theme? Most important, will readers care?

One of our staff writers wrote this paragraph in a feature about the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a minor league baseball team:

The skinny 10-year-old, wearing an orange-and-black

Frederick uniform, sits near the

home-plate end of the Rocks’ dugout. He

focuses on the batter, anticipating a foul ball or

stray bat. (33 words)

I would argue that most bat boys sit in the dugout. And readers don’t need to know at what end he’s sitting–home plate, first base, who cares? That information is irrelevant. So we rewrote the graf and saved 11 words.

The skinny 10-year-old, wearing an orange-and-black

Frederick uniform, focuses

on the batter, anticipating a foul

ball or stray bat. (22 words)

Of course, it’s much more difficult to cut your own work. Here’s a graf from a story I wrote about a flamboyant criminal defense lawyer in Delaware.

Hurley has more spots in one

tie rack than can be counted in

101 Dalmatians. His 22 polka

dot ties come from everywhere

from Marshall’s to Rome and

they represent colors from purple

to orange. (33 words)

I thought the Dalmatians reference was clever. On further review, I decided the pun deviated from the theme and added nothing to describing Hurley. In fact, it was an example of overwriting. The details (his 22 polka dot ties) should tell the story.

Hurley’s 22 polka dot ties span the spectrum

from orange to purple and come from stores

as diverse as Marshall’s to a fancy shop in

Rome. (25 words)

These two paragraphs ended a section in the Blue Rocks story. The writer spent a weekend on the road with the team. In this section, the writer describes how 18-year–old players act on boring bus trips–from playing cards to watching movies.

Today, only an occasional cackle comes from

the card players. That is, until a braless

Melanie Griffith appears, hikes up her sweater

and flashes Paul Newman. A call comes from

the back. “Hey, rewind that, Rock.”

The bus pulls into the Comfort Inn parking

lot exactly two hours after leaving Wilmington.

“Four-thirty bus.” (54 words)

The last graf fails, while the second-to-last has verve. I told the writer that readers won’t care what time the players have to catch the bus from the hotel to the stadium. End the section the way a book chapter would end–with material that has both substance and style. Also, notice how we tightened. “Flashing” implies that Griffith is braless. So we reworded that graf, too.

Today, only an occasional cackle comes from

the card players–until Melanie Griffith hikes

up her sweater and flashes Newman. A call

comes from the back. “Hey, rewind that,

Rock.” (30 words)

Rewriting the Lead

Now I’m ready to tackle the most vital part of the story. I’ve already decided what device I’ll use–a teaser, a description, an anecdote, whatever. But now I must knead the words like dough to ensure the lead catapults the reader into the body of the story.

This lead comes from a story about a controversial reporter in Wilmington. I opened the story with a descriptive piece of hate mail she received. I then moved into my narrative.

Valerie Helmbreck usually reads the hate mail,

laughs, then tosses it. But Helmbreck handles

hate mail the way most people handle telemarketers–you

can get pounded only so

many times before you finally snap.

This time, Helmbreck snapped. One particular

mean-spirited letter railed Helmbreck for

ruining the career of CBS golf analyst Ben

Wright. She was the one who reported the

inflammatory comments he made about

women on the LPGA Tour. Wright gave the

letter-writer hours of enjoyment. How dare

she cause Wright’s firing?

Helmbreck blasted out a three-page

response. She had not made a dime on this

fiasco. All she and her family has had is aggravation.

Entertainment is far more important

than honesty. And that attitude is why people

like Wright can trash people’s lives.

In revision, the lead felt awkward and unappealing. I was committed to starting with the hate mail but unsatisfied with how I’d played off it. This is how I rewrote:

Valerie Helmbreck usually reads the hate mail,

laughs at black widow comparisons, then

tosses it. But one particular mean-spirited letter

hit a nerve.

The man lambasted Helmbreck for ruining

the career of CBS golf analyst Ben Wright after

she reported inflammatory comments he

made about women on the LPGA tour. Wright

had given the letter-writer hours of enjoyment

on TV. How dare she cause Wright’s firing?

“I don’t know why I snapped,” Helmbreck

says, “but I snapped.”

So the fiery reporter blasted out a three-page

response explaining her side. That she

has gained nothing from this fiasco. That all

she’s had is aggravation. That apparently, this

man’s thirst for entertainment and respect for

Ben Wright is more important than honesty.

My primary revisions included:

* Eliminating the telemarketing reference–irrelevant and dopey.

* Adding Helmbreck’s “I snapped” quote, which gives the section more life, more attitude and a different voice.

* Shifting the emphasis from the letter to either the letter-writer, Helmbreck or Wright. Emphasize people, not things.

* Changing the rhythm in the last graf, so that those three sentences start with “that.” The strategic repetition (as opposed to unplanned and annoying repetition of words) acts as a rhythmic momentum-builder.

* Cutting cliches–”not made a dime”–and adding more active phrasing–”thirst for entertainment.”

* Reworking word choice. By substituting “fiery reporter” for “Helmbreck” later in the lead, I added context.

The second lead isn’t substantially different from the first (especially the information), but the sentences are more succinct and help direct readers through the lead.

Although some leads take move work to revise, others may need only one word changed. This was the first lead I wrote for the story on the flamboyant lawyer.

Rightfully cautious about pulling up his

underwear, he carefully slips a pair over his

cortisone-covered sore spot.

This starts a description of the lawyer getting dressed a few days after he was stung by a bee that had been hiding in his underwear. I liked the way the description tips off the reader that the lead is behind-the-scenes, and I also liked that the reader needs to know the story behind the sore spot.

But something didn’t feel fight: “Rightfully.” The adverb bogged down the meaning. By chopping my sacred first word, the sentence grows clearer. Instead of readers being confused (Why “rightfully”?), they now want to know about the spot. It also spotlighted that weak word “pair,” so I called Hurley and asked him for the missing detail (Calvin Klein black boxer briefs). Expect additional reporting in the revision.

Tighten, Tighten, Tighten

I claim I can cut 10% out of most stories without losing any meaning or changing a writer’s style. We’ve all heard Strunk and White’s “eliminate needless words” mantra. Live by it in revision. Every sentence need not be short, but every word needs to work.

As the veins in his neck begin to create bulges

in his skin (12 words)

Why “begin to create”? The main verb is flat–”begin.” “Bulge” conveys movement. Use it. Also, we know that veins bulge in skin (as opposed to in hair), so change it to:

As his neck veins bulge (5 words)

Here’s another:

Glancing back at the phone in a sly manner

and briefly checking the company of the

room, he mechanically dials the number that

has been stored in his mental Rolodex for

more than a few wasted years. (37 words)

I love the image of the mental Rolodex, but it’s lost in a sea of adverbs and verbosity. Tighten it and emphasize the sharpest image by moving it to the end of the sentence.

He glances at the phone, checks the company

of the room and dials the number from his

mental Rolodex. (19 words)

The energetic short sentence precisely describes the action. “Glances,” “checks” and “dials” are all telling verbs, but their adverbs in the first version diluted their meaning. “Glances” implies slyly. “Checks” implies briefly. And “dials” implies mechanically. The result is a sentence that’s half as long and twice as powerful.

Eliminate the needless phrases and you might just buy yourself enough room for that anecdote that you had to sacrifice because of the word count.

Read It Aloud

After you trim the fat, read your story aloud. It helps, whether you read to yourself or to someone else. (One of our staff writers reads his stories over the phone to his mother. It helps him catch typos, but it also helps with rhythm and tone–he hears the words, not just sees them. And it gives the writer a captive audience on which to test his puns, clarify ambiguities and so forth.)

This paragraph describes a writer’s feelings of being the driver in a car accident.

My body slammed forward, stopped by the

life-saving strap across my chest, and the top

portion of my vertebrae was crushed by the

force as everything proceeded to slow down

at an alarming rate. Almost as if time had

slowed and stopped, nothing moved, no

sounds, my eyes shut. (50 words)

I don’t like the use of “life-saving strap.” “Seat belt” is less distracting. I also don’t like the contrast of “slowing down” at an “alarming rate.” The image is contrary. But I do like that the writer changes pace in sentence structure. Here’s how I would have rewritten.

My body–stopped by my seat belt–slammed

forward. The force crushed the top

of my vertebrae. Almost as if time had

stopped, nothing moved. No sounds. My eyes

shut. (30 words)

Using periods instead of commas throughout the last part of that section makes the reader pause. That introduces a fresh cadence to the writing. The pace changes, and the emphasis shifts to the writer’s eyes shutting. Combined with the elimination of the passive verbs, that pace gives the graf an almost surreal–and very effective–rhythm.

The Final Look

Writers often save the last read for typos and verifying names and titles. That’s great, but don’t be afraid to check your story for:

* Punching up your verbs.

* Making sure sections break logically.

* Eliminating vague and flat phrases like “there are” and “it is.”

Clark emphasizes that while writers discuss writing, thinking and editing in linear terms, the actual process is recursive.

“No matter how disciplined or orderly a writer tries to be, tightening goes on early on,” he says. Writing looks more like a spiral than a line. Writers continually address all aspects of revision–structuring while they’re tightening, tightening while they’re structuring. The important part, he says, is to save enough time for revision.

When you do finish the story, you can look for those typos, send it off and do what I do–wish I had another week to rewrite some more.